Cover image for The return of the caravels : a novel
The return of the caravels : a novel
Antunes, António Lobo, 1942-
Uniform Title:
Naus. English
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Grove Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
210 pages ; 22 cm
Added Author:
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X Adult Fiction Central Library

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Antonio Lobo Antunes's many novels have established him as "without doubt the greatest Portuguese writer now living, " Le Monde has written. In The Return of the Caravels he delivers a marvelous, unforgettable novel of Portuguese colonials returning from Africa. The Return of the Caravels is set in Lisbon in the 1970s, as Portugal's African colonies are dissolving. In a contemporary rejoinder to Camoes's conquest epic, The Lusiads, Antunes imagines Vasco da Gama and his fellow heroes of Portuguese exploration beached amid the detritus of the empire's collapse. As da Gama begins to reconquer Lisbon by winning it, piece by piece, in fixed card games, four hundred years of Portuguese history mingle -- the caravels dock next to Iraqi oil tankers, and the slave trade rubs shoulders with the duty-free shops. The Return of the Caravels is a rich and uncompromising look at one of Europe's great colonial powers, and how the era of conquest reshaped not just Portugal but the world. "When Antunes is in full heat ... he reads like William Faulkner or Celine...." -- Bill Marx, The Boston Globe

Author Notes

Lobo Antunes, a psychiatrist and a soldier in the Portuguese colonial wars in Angola, was born in Lisbon. "South of Nowhere", his second novel, published in 1980, became the center of controversy both because of its daring content and its novel structure. The action is very brief: it lasts only one night. The author tells a silent woman companion his frank impressions about his experience as a medical doctor in the war of liberation against Portuguese colonialism. In some passages, the novel makes allusion to The Lusiads and its allegorical intentions. It denounces with lucid sarcasm the failure of Portuguese colonization in Africa.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In a counterpoint to The Lusiads, Luis de Camoes' sixteenth-century epic poem describing the exploration of Vasco da Gama as the Portuguese empire expanded, acclaimed Portuguese novelist Antunes swirls together some 500 years of the history and arts of his country as the empire contracts. In the 1970s, as Portugal loses its African colonies and undergoes upheaval at home, colonists fleeing violence in Angola reach a turbulent Lisbon. Among them are Gama himself, a card shark who begins winning back pieces of Portugal and is reunited with his patron, Dom Manoel, before both are tossed into an asylum by a contemporary court, and a man named Luis, who begins writing an epic poem after carrying the corpse of his father back to his homeland. In this Lisbon fortunes are won by less than honorable means, as the several featured characters interconnect with one another and interact with historical personages. The flow of rushing prose mixes periods and events in long, complex sentences; serious fiction readers will admire the virtuosity of the wordplay. Michele Leber.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Antunes examines the legacy of the Portuguese conquistadors in his latest novel, a murky, hallucinatory affair in which the author follows half a dozen characters through the breakup of Portugal's colonial dominion in the 1970s while occasionally backtracking to the 16th century to trace the effects of Vasco da Gama's journeys. Da Gama is by far Antunes's most intriguing creation, particularly when the author posits a scenario in which the explorer returns to 20th-century Portugal as the colonies are fading and proceeds to reestablish his power within the country by winning a series of high-stakes poker games. Antunes also delves into the fate of one of da Gama's admirals, Diogo Cao, who tries to raise money for a second voyage to India while engaging in an interlude with an elderly prostitute. None of the secondary figures measure up to the promise offered by those two characters, however, and Antunes fails to follow up on the intriguing plot line with da Gama. What he opts for instead is a lyrical but nonlinear narrative full of long, labyrinthine sentences in which he draws from the tradition of magical realism, using imagery ranging from the grotesque and lurid to the poetically beautiful to frame Portugal's loss of power. Antunes is definitely a writer worth reading for his literary talent and his insights into Portugal's history, geography and national character, but readers must be willing to leave behind any expectations regarding straight-line narrative and coherent plot. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This highly praised Portuguese author, who was trained as a psychiatrist and has been compared with Faulkner, Cline, and Proust, characteristically writes about the decadence and corruption of contemporary Lisbon after the collapse of his tiny nation's world empire. In this phantasmagoric novel, Antunes conflates 400 years of history with the likes of a one-handed Spaniard named Cervantes just back from selling lottery tickets in Mozambique and Vasco da Gama, bored with tempestuous seafaring, pellagra, and venereal disease, challenging strangers to duels of blackjack in hopes of winning the entire nation with his luck at cards. The caravels of the Golden Age are moored beside Iraqi tankers outlined by the flames of steel mills as Castilian warships threaten to invade the realm. Written in 1988, this inventive novel is a romp through the vagaries of Portuguese history, a collage of anachronisms, and a satire of the greed and pettiness typical of the human condition. For all larger public libraries. Jack Shreve, Allegany Coll. of Maryland, Cumberland (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.